BENTONVILLE, Arkansas — Foppers Pet Treat Bakery, 1005 W. Broadway, will soon have its products sold on Walmart's shelves.
Last week, hundreds of entrepreneurs and small businesses lined the halls at Walmart’s Home Office last week to pitch their U.S.-manufactured products to Walmart buyers, hoping to land on store shelves and create more American jobs. During the sixth annual Open Call event, more than 100 companies moved on to the next step, with several dozen getting deals on the spot to go on Walmart store shelves.
The Logansport-based manufacturer was among the companies hoping for a chance to get their products on Walmart's shelves. Foppers Chief Executive Officer Michelle Leffert told Inside Indiana Business she was shocked to hear her company was selected. Leffert said being selected means growing the company more quickly than it had previously anticipated.
"We have to do more investigation and work with Walmart to see exactly what our distribution will be and how fast they will ramp up with that, but that still means that we have to start ramping up at Foppers right away," Leffert told Inside Indiana Business. "We had positioned ourselves for (an) opportunity like this so it's going to be a matter of also still searching for employees that have our core values and dedication that will come into Foppers and continue to produce quality items."
The 15-year-old company expects to begin distribution through Walmart in the second quarter of 2020.
In addition to pitch meetings, the two-day event hosted at Walmart's headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, provided informative sessions for supplier-hopefuls, according to a Walmart press release. These included a supplier mentoring session, a discussion on how suppliers can grow their businesses and a presentation on how to get products ready for retail.
Walmart CEO Doug McMillon — who once worked as a buyer for the company — also addressed the eager entrepreneurs. He shared why buying local products makes economic sense and is good for the communities Walmart serves: “If we can create great local jobs, we’re going to have better stores and better, stronger communities,” McMillon said. “We love to buy things that are close to our distribution centers and our stores because it creates those jobs, while also helping us be more efficient. So, this is strategic and something we should be doing as a business. But we also bring an emotional component to this because we care about people. We want everybody who has anything to do with Walmart — whether they’re a customer or an associate or a supplier of ours — to benefit."
In April, the Cass-Logansport Economic Development Organization (CLEDO), announced it was working in partnership with Foppers on expanding its Logansport operation. The company currently occupies a 45,000-square-foot facility that it purchased in 2009. The business has been family owned and operated since 2004.
"My husband told me to go online and look for businesses for sale," Michelle explained in an April interview with the Pharos-Tribune. "It was supposed to be a home-based business. That lasted about nine months and then we moved to a lease facility in Lafayette where we were living at the time."
Leffert's husband, Clark, who was raised in the Logansport area, originally bought the company for $90,000.
"Today we've grown to a multi-million-dollar a year operation," Clark Leffert stated.
Foppers currently sells its products directly online and through retail partners which include Petsmart, Big Lots, Kroger, Marshalls, TJ Maxx and Walgreens.
In the spring, the company proposed an investment of more than $1 million that includes real estate, improvements and equipment. Currently, they have 25 full-time employees, with plans to hire more, though exactly how many remains unclear now with the announcement of the Walmart deal.
"Right now, we have a phenomenal team of employees," Michelle Leffert told Inside Indiana Business. "They are just phenomenal workers and really care about what we're doing. We know employees are getting more difficult to find but we are trying to still be selective because we want them to interact and be a positive influence on our current employees. We do have a huge influx of seasonal business, so we will bring in some seasonal employees which also gives us a great foundation to find those select few that we want to continue to keep full-time."
More than 100 companies were selected to continue in the open call process and will have conversations with a Walmart buyer. The companies in attendance represented a broad geography, including 48 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Canada, Mexico and Australia. Collectively, their impact on the U.S. manufacturing sector can be felt across the country, as they are manufacturing their products in 44 different states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.